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February 06, 2004

Auschwitz Under Our Noses

Now that I've finally posted something original, I can get back to the (far easier) work of linking to other people's writing.

You should read this excellent column by the WaPo's Anne Applebaum.   Writing about the unthinkably barbaric atrocities happening right now in North Korea, Applebaum puts things in appropriate perspective:

Nearly 60 years ago last week, Auschwitz was liberated. On Jan. 27, 1945, four Russian soldiers rode into the camp. They seemed "wonderfully concrete and real," remembered Primo Levi, one of the prisoners, "perched on their enormous horses, between the gray of the snow and the gray of the sky." But they did not smile, nor did they greet the starving men and women. Levi thought he knew why: They felt "the shame that a just man experiences at another man's crime, the feeling of guilt that such a crime should exist."

Nowadays, it seems impossible to understand why so few people, at the time of the Auschwitz liberation, even knew that the camp existed. It seems even harder to explain why those who did know did nothing. In recent years a plethora of respectable institutions -- the Vatican, the U.S. government, the international Jewish community, the Allied commanders -- have all been accused of "allowing" the Holocaust to occur, through ignorance or ill will or fear, or simply because there were other priorities, such as fighting the war.

We shake our heads self-righteously, certain that if we'd been there, liberation would have come earlier -- all the while failing to see that the present is no different. Quite a lot has changed in 60 years, but the ways in which information about crimes against humanity can simultaneously be "known" and not known hasn't changed at all. Nor have other interests and other priorities ceased to distract people from the feelings of shame and guilt they would certainly feel, if only they focused on them.

If Applebaum's description of some of these horrors is not enough to convince you of the need for action, read this excellent post by Al Maviva at SashaCastel.com.   For the strong of heart, you can read this report by U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea.

February 6, 2004 at 01:03 PM | Permalink


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